Just browsing Google Street View — here’s a link to the spot above.
Have a good weekend!
Just browsing Google Street View — here’s a link to the spot above.
Have a good weekend!
A few days ago I found a Time issue from 1973:
Flipping through, I came across this:
First of all, that opening sentence …
After three years in Siberian prison camps, writer Andrei Amalrik, 35, was looking forward to going home.
… would be hilarious if it weren’t so sad. As if he’s thinking, y’know, these Siberian prison camps, they’re okay, but truth be told, I’d kinda rather be sleeping in my own bed, if you don’t think I’m rude to say so.
It’s strange, though, reading news from the past. These past people, they somehow don’t know what’s coming next. These 1973 people, they have no idea what 1974 holds. Don’t they have history books? Don’t they realize it’s all been decided already, and 2017 is the real frontier?
Back to Andrei Amalrik. As the article says, he had spent three years in prison camps, and just when he thought he was done, Soviet authorities sentenced him to three years more. He was weak from meningitis and general bad health (Siberian prison camps will do that to you), and on top of that, he had begun a hunger strike. Nobody knew if he would survive.
I had never heard of him, but I had to know how his story turned out. I didn’t have much hope for him, given his dire situation, but I looked him up.
According to his Wikipedia page, his second prison sentence was commuted to one year, due to “his poor health … and protests from the West,” although even after release, he remained exiled in the same remote region of the country. In 1975, he was finally able to return to Moscow. Then, given an ultimatum by the KGB — leave the country, or face another prison term — he and his family moved to the Netherlands in 1976. They later moved to the US, and then to France.
A (mostly) happy ending, after all. Except …
In 1980, on his way from France to Madrid, he was killed in a car crash at age 42. His wife, who was also in the car, was not seriously hurt.
Can you imagine — surviving four years in Siberian prison, only to die in an auto accident?
Who, in 1973, would have predicted that?
A little slice of Evan’s world:
We typically think of the presidential election years (2016, 2020) as the big ones, with the in-between congressional races (2014, 2018) as the midterm or “off” years. The odd-numbered years, like this year, get so little attention that it’s easy to forget we have an election at all.
For the most part, there are no senators, representatives, or governors up for election in 2017. Turnout is going to be abysmally low. So why should we care?
Several reasons …
1. Turnout is going to be abysmally low.
I don’t have numbers on this, but I doubt I need research to convince you that not many of your fellow citizens will be heading to the polls in a month. That’s unfortunate, but it’s also an opportunity. The fewer people that vote, the more each individual vote counts. If turnout is, say, half of what it was in 2016, your vote literally counts twice as much.
Usually, ×2 power-ups are the kind of thing you only find in video games. Here’s one in real life. Why not grab it?
But more importantly …
2. Local stuff matters.
City council members. Local judges. County taxes. And, in many cases, statewide issues as well. (My state, Ohio, has two issues to vote on, conveniently numbered Issue 1 and Issue 2.) This stuff matters for your community, and again, your vote counts much more (compared to national votes) because there are far fewer voters.
And beyond that — local issues don’t just matter for their own sake, they also have a sort of “trickle-up” effect on national matters. Ever hear the saying, “All politics is local”? Senators and presidents get their power from the little people, and their advisers — if they’re smart — pay attention to which way the wind is blowing. Votes don’t just make decisions, they also send messages.
Speaking of which …
3. Votes matter even when you know you’ll lose.
Say you’re a left-leaning voter in a deep-red county. (A completely hypothetical scenario, in no way associated with my own life. Ahem.) Often, you can be almost certain that you’ll lose, even before you cast your vote. So what’s the point?
Think of it this way. Let’s say you’re dissuaded from going to vote whenever you expect to lose by 20 percentage points or more. (I know there’s not a specific number, we’re just talking roughly.) You go to vote if you think you might lose by 15 percentage points, because you figure there’s a chance; but not if you expect to lose by 25 points.
Well, everyone’s threshold is different. Some people are more optimistic (or dutiful, or whatever) and will go vote if they expect to lose by 30 points or less; others will only go if it’s fairly close, say, 10 points or less. Again, speaking very loosely.
Here’s the thing, though. You, Mr. 20-pointer, get to that 20-point expectation largely because of people like Miss 30-pointer, who voted last time when the odds were even more grim. And, in turn, your vote helps encourage Mrs. 10-pointer, who votes only when things look rosy. So again — it’s not just about making this particular decision. It’s about sending a message to other voters. It’s about blazing a trail.
Besides, don’t forget …
4. You get to feel smug and superior.
And really, isn’t that what democracy is all about?
You can learn about the candidates and issues at Ballotpedia, in your state and local news, and lots of other places. You can verify your registration, find your polling place, and get other info at Can I Vote.
Election Day is Tuesday, November 7, 2017.
Wait — what’s that you say? Your main reason for voting is to spite President Trump? Trust me on this …
5. Voting in local elections will annoy Trump.
Partly because it’s a chance to oppose his vision for the country, even in a small way. But mostly because local elections aren’t really about him at all — and the idea of millions of Americans casting ballots that aren’t stamped with his name, has to drive him absolutely crazy.
Do it for civic pride, or do it for spite. Best of all, do it for both. Just, y’know. Get it done.
Unless you’re not American. Then you can, I dunno, do whatever it is non-Americans do on a Tuesday afternoon. Cricket, I guess?
Mr. Spock prides himself on thinking logically. When someone is being “highly illogical,” he isn’t afraid to let them know. He’s half Vulcan — Vulcans being an entire race of logical thinkers.
Lots of humans try to do the same, and often feel they’ve succeeded. “Just think about this logically,” you’ll hear someone say, implying that they know how to do this, whereas others do not. A lot of people seem to believe that “thinking logically” is something fairly well-defined, that you can just decide to do, if you’re smart enough to know how.
I’m pretty sure it’s not that simple.
Don’t get me wrong — I’m a huge believer in logic. I firmly believe that logic (along with its children, math and science and engineering) is one of the greatest things we’ve ever come up with, as a species. It’s worthy of deep study and careful practice. Certainly you can think more logically or less logically, and you should generally shoot for the first one.
But logic has its limits. And if you believe that logical thinking is a sort of binary state that you can flip on or off, then you’re being, well, highly illogical. Logic is a strange, subtle, slippery creature, and even if you can get hold of it firmly (good luck, btw) there are some doors it simply can’t open.
Let’s look at some of the difficulties.
Logic is only as good as its inputs — and logic can’t choose your inputs for you.
In a comment a few days ago, blog reader Anthony Lee Collins pointed out that logic only works well if you use it “starting with things that are true.” In other words: Garbage in, garbage out. This is a subtler point than you might think, because logic takes various kinds of inputs. Some input is raw sensory data (e.g., something you saw with your own eyes). Other input isn’t direct from the senses, but consists of conclusions you’ve made from earlier thoughts (e.g., he’s sneezing so he’s probably allergic to something). Some definitions are spelled out fairly clearly in your brain (e.g., a kilogram is a thousand grams), while others are implicit, axiomatic (e.g., it’s possible to define the concept of “a number” formally, but almost nobody does, or should).
The description I’m giving is vastly oversimplified, but already we see how much of a mess our input is. To put it mildly, we can never 100% trust our senses, or our prior conclusions, or our definitions of terms, whether implicit or explicit. What’s more, we can’t even quantify the degree to which we trust these things, and making the attempt would take an enormous amount of time.
Beyond all that, we can’t even use logic to decide which inputs to use, at least not in an absolute sense. Yes, I can use some logical criteria to decide, say, which news reports or which people I trust more or less. But how did I decide those criteria? Did I use logic there, too? Then that logical process must have had inputs … and so on. You see the problem. You go down far enough, sooner or later you’ll hit a gooey blob of intuition. This necessarily happens, to some extent, even in the most rigorous of formal mathematical proofs (because you can’t build a castle on air). How much more does it happen in our ordinary thinking?
All this difficulty, and we haven’t even gotten to the actual “logic” part yet.
Logic can’t choose your goals or values for you.
Logic and science deal in facts, in building up basic data into more complex and (hopefully) more useful data. Logic can tell you something like: “If you vaccinate these 1,000 people against this disease, there is a 99% chance that at least 975 of them will survive.” What it can’t tell you is whether or not to care about people living or dying. This is what philosopher David Hume famously called the is-ought problem: No matter how much “is” data you have (objective facts), there is no purely logical way to jump into the world of what you “should” do (subjective values). At some level, this must always rely on intuition.
People try to get around this in various ways. Christians can say “God commands us to do this.” Okay — but even if you believe in God, why obey him? Because he’s supremely good and wise? Okay — but why go along with what’s supremely good and wise? (If that sounds silly, that’s your intuition talking.) Conversely, atheists might conceivably say that, according to the theory of evolution, the only purpose of life is to reproduce and improve. But in fact the theory of evolution says no such thing. Like all scientific theories, it is purely descriptive; it says that, over time, trillions of organisms have reproduced, and this is the mechanism by which species “improve” (however you define that). It does not and cannot advise you on whether to pursue this goal yourself. All other value systems have the same difficulty.
What logic can do — and what it does very well, in fact — is define subgoals and lesser values as a consequence of your ultimate, foundational values. For instance, logic can’t tell you that you should value life, as a standalone statement. But it can tell you (more or less) that if you value life, then vaccination aligns with your values, based on the data we have.
And even if you have good input data and clearly defined goals …
Logic is expensive.
Thinking logically takes time and energy. It simply isn’t possible to think with precise logic about every decision you make. You have to intuit most of your life, in fact. Another complication: Some decisions (e.g., choosing a new car) may permit you to take weeks or months to think it over at your leisure, whereas other decisions (e.g., whether to brake for that brownish blur that’s suddenly racing across the road) may allow you less than a second.
Okay, you say, that’s not so bad: Come up with a logical system for when to spend more time on logic, and when to spend less (or none). Okay, but … what method do I use to create such a system? How do I evaluate its success? How do I apply it in everyday life? How and when do I make changes to the method? Again, intuition will soak into all these areas.
And finally …
Logic is really, really hard.
What if we could somehow live in an “ideal” world, with good inputs, clear goals, and infinite time for thinking? Logic is still incredibly difficult, especially if you happen to be human. Even the most basic of statements is fraught with possible errors. Take this example:
It is likely to rain, therefore I will take an umbrella.
If someone asked me, I’d say that statement is logical enough, by ordinary human standards. But if we’re really serious about thinking logically, there are a million things to consider before we’d pronounce it solid. Things like:
And on, and on, and on. And really, even the objections above are generous and oversimplified, because the original statement doesn’t even pretend to follow any sort of truly formal logic.
Again, you might say my questions about the umbrella are silly — but again, that’s your intuition talking. Part of the job of intuition is to bypass the staggering complexity of rigorous logic and produce something that’s good enough. Intuition is necessary. Intuition is what gets us through the day.
There are even more limits and qualifications and things to consider when you talk about logical thinking. You could write hundreds of books on the subject, and people have. My point is simply that logic — even though it’s really, really great — is also woefully inadequate when standing on its own, just as intuition is woefully inadequate on its own. They’re complementary, and if we’re smart, we’ll recognize that, and we’ll understand that “thinking logically” just means “thinking somewhat more logically than usual” — and, for the most part, that’s a good thing.
Maybe, like Mr. Spock, we’re all half-human after all.